by Ejemen Iyayi
Earlier this week, I sat down to chat with and interview Mustafa Delsoz who, in addition to being part of other immigrant and refugee youth-based initiatives, is a youth worker for the Youth Connexion program of the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS of BC) and youth leader for the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) Youth Network. Mustafa, who is originally from Afghanistan and grew up in the Kyrgyz Republic, came to Canada as a Government Assisted Refugee in 2007.
We discussed his experiences with youth engagement and what some barriers may be in immigrant/non-Aboriginal, First Nations and urban Aboriginal youth relations. Check out the Q&A below!
EI: Tell us a bit about yourself and the type of work that you do.
MD: My name is Mustafa Delsoz and I’m a youth worker with the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS of BC). I work for the program called Youth Connexion where we work with immigrant and refugee youth who want to go to school and/or find employment. I am also part of a youth group called Action Team where many young immigrants and refugees work on different issues that raise awareness about immigrant and refugee problems. I am also involved with the Youth Network of an organization called Canadian Council of Refugees (CCR) which aims to give youth a voice so that they can work on newcomer youth challenges.
EI: What have you found to be some key processes which help to foster youth engagement?
MD: What is really important is peer support. We really stress this in Youth Connexion and Action Team. We place importance on peer support, empowering people, being there and creating safe places; not teaching but facilitating in order to engage youth and make a positive change in their lives. For me, I got involved with the work that I do through the ISS of BC Multicultural Youth Circle (MY Circle) program which provided youth with really meaningful conversations. It created a safe place and empowered us, letting us know that our ideas are important as well. Even now, as a youth worker and facilitator, I find it important to add the peer support piece to my work because I can see how youth are coming back to these programss because they feel that they are safe places for them.
EI: What have been some common experiences of the youth you have worked with regarding accessing informational resources about Canada (specifically, about First Nations and urban Aboriginal communities)?
MD: In my experience as a youth worker, when they first arrive in Canada, most of the youth that I have worked with have the idea of Canada as a country where people have a lot of opportunities and there is a feeling of freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Big themes like these. When it comes to knowledge about First Nations and Urban Aboriginal communities, I would say that 90% of the youth do not know about First Nations peoples and they do not know the history of Canada. Also, in their minds, a Canadian is a Caucasian person with the name of, say, Jessica. That was also the idea I had when I first came to Canada.
EI: What do you think are some barriers for newcomers in accessing information about First Nations and/or urban Aboriginal peoples?
MD: I think a lot of people in general do not know enough about Aboriginal peoples. Youth in high schools, for example, do not learn enough about the history of how Canada was created and I think that plays a big role in why youth in general do not have an idea of the history of First Nations peoples. When we talk about immigrants and refugees specifically, from my experience, newcomers learn more about Canada’s history through programs such as the ones I am a part of. In Youth Connexion, what I do myself is I invite a First Nations person to deliver a workshop on the history of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in Canada, touching on what it may mean to be a First Nations person and speaking about the history of colonization and the things that were done to destroy some Aboriginal cultures. I tend to invite such a workshop facilitator based on a need I see in my youth who may ask questions and have some underlying stereotypes. I think this is really important because I think newcomers to Canada – and, specifically, in BC – need to know where they are going to and whose land they are on.
EI: Why do you think it is important to demystify stereotypes about First Nations and urban Aboriginal peoples and to learn more about their communities?
MD: This is important because this land belongs to First Nations peoples. This land has been their land and I think it is unfair that we do not know about it. We need to learn more about their cultures, what their traditions are, why we are here and whose land this is. Raising awareness about what is going on in our communities is key. We need to talk about what has happened in the past and how this shapes what is going on today in these communities. With this belief, when I invite someone from an Aborignal community to do a workshop with my youth, I feel that I give back with what is in my power.
EI: You talk about the importance of knowing about where we are and of the original people of this land. How do you think this knowledge of the community impacts a newcomer’s idea of him-/herself as a Canadian?
MD: I think there are a lot of connections between newcomer Canadian immigrants and refugees, First Nations, and urban Aboriginal peoples. For example, one time a First Nations person expressed to me that sometimes, in Canada, First Nations people feel that they are not from here and that this is not their country. There is a feeling of isolation and alienation in this country. Some immigrants and refugees feel this way too when they come to Canada. Also, they may have the stereotype that this country belongs to only one type of people. This is a concern because I think people need to know that this land is welcome to every type of person, but, at the same time, it needs to be recognized as the original home of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples.
EI: What are some ways to get youth to critically engage with and address some of the topics being discussed here?
MD: I think it’s really important to start critically thinking about these topics in high schools. It would be great to have First Nations and Aboriginal groups raising awareness even through workshops in high schools. I speak of high schools because that is where youth grow up and build the fundamentals of their knowledge. What I have heard is that a lot of young people are learning about Aboriginal history in colleges and they themselves initiate this by taking Aboriginal Studies. But I think that if we start with the knowledge exchange in high schools, it will raise more awareness and it will just be fair. These conversations need to be had with youth where they are provided the space to critically engage. Also, there are also First Nations and urban Aboriginal youth who go to high schools – it is really important to empower these youth and give them a space where they can talk about their histories if they want to. If things like these happen, I think that a lot more immigrant and refugee youth in high schools will be able to relate in some way, attend the workshops and have the chance to be part of the bridge-building between their communities and First Nations and urban Aboriginal communities. Projects like Dialogues Youth Vancouver are important where youth have the chance to learn about the history of Canada and, specifically, about that of Aboriginal peoples. Here, I hope to see workshops delivered and ideas about creating programs where youth can easily access the needed information and where the space is created for youth to feel safe to express themselves. I think it would be even more beautiful if youth would be facilitating these workshops where it’ll be more accessible and there’ll be less pressure for young people to attend.
EI: What sorts of topics do you want to see youth talk about with regards to relations between First Nations, urban Aboriginal, and immigrant/non-Aboriginal communities?
MD: Topics around the feeling of alientation and the idea that “this country does not belong to us”. This theme can be broken down into more specific topics which can be addressed and which I think a lot of immigrant and refugee youth can relate to as well. I also think that a lot of immigrant and refugee youth would want to talk about the history of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples. From my own perspective, when I first came to Canada, I really wanted to know more about the culture, traditions and about what happened… I think that question “What happened?” is really important to ask because, if we know about what happened, we might be able to guess what will happen tomorrow. A lot of youth have approached me saying that they’ve heard about Aboriginal people but are still wondering who they are and what happened. That’s good for the young person [to ask], but it really concerns me because, yes, we know that this land originally belongs to First Nations people, but why is it that when we come to this country we don’t know about them? There’s simply not enough done to raise awareness. We need to work together with the City to create those safe places where youth can talk about their histories and, also, what’s going on right now. History is important but I can see that there are a lot of stereotypes and issues that are happening now in Aboriginal communities and these are influenced by struggles that are both from history and from what is happening today. I would love to hear more, participate in the dialogue, and improve my knowledge. And I know that a lot of youth would love to do that too.
EI: What do you find to be the value in dialogue?
MD: I think building bridges is a synonym for dialogue. I think storytelling and sharing have played big roles in my own culture and I know it has an importance in the cultures of First Nations and other Aboriginal peoples too. A lot immigrant and refugee people who come from cultures similar to mine value storytelling too. I think that if we don’t know and we don’t speak, then we can’t feel and relate with each other. So it is really important to have dialogues. And, like I’ve mentioned before, creating safe spaces and empowering people to speak up and to talk is part of creating dialogues. We need to have dialogues to know about each other and to know what we’re going to do in the future to make changes or to raise awareness about our struggles living in this country and, also, the positives as well.